• Hank's Auto Wreckers in the Woolwich Observer September 2010,

    Submitted On February 24th, 2012

    Your car gets a new life after its last ride

    Every year, millions of gleaming new cars roll off assembly lines and out of dealer lots, to be polished, photographed, gloated over and perhaps named. Every year, millions more are totalled in accidents or decay past the point of repair and are hauled away to scrap yards.

    Scrap yards aren’t just automotive garbage dumps, where cars rust into oblivion. Some 75 per cent of the average car’s content, by weight, can be recycled. And recycled they are – more than newspapers, more than glass bottles, more than any other consumer product on the planet.

    How much of each vehicle is recycled depends on the model, age and condition of the vehicle and what sort of wrecker it goes to. Auto recyclers – like Hank’s Auto Wreckers in St. Clements and Paleshi Motors in Elmira – pull usable parts off the vehicle and resell them, while scrap metal dealers sell the cars to shredders for metal recovery. About 500 cars roll into the dismantling bays at Hank’s Auto Wreckers every year.

    Most of the parts are sold to yards and repair shops. Everything Hank’s has in inventory is listed on a popular used parts website and they’ve sold parts to every continent except Antarctica – including, once, a taillight to the Vatican.

    The scrapping industry is driven by demand for used parts, but it follows the same technological road as the auto manufacturing industry, just eight or 10 years behind.

    Cars rolling off the assembly line today are immensely more complicated than they were 40 or 50 years ago, packing more options into a smaller space. Things like air bags, antilock brakes and air conditioning didn’t exist then but are standard today.

    “Years ago, it was 12 to 20 pieces you’d inventory,” said Mike Nissen.

    New parts were so cheap that no one would bother trying to track down a used one unless it was some something major, like a transmission. Hank’s Auto Wreckers didn’t need a computerized inventory system because Hank could keep track of where everything was in his head.

    With 100,000 parts on the lot, that’s just not possible anymore. Not only do they remove more parts from each vehicle, but there’s more variation between makes and model years. And cars just last longer; with manufacturers offering 10-year, 100,000-kilometer warranties, they have to keep parts in stock longer than they used to.

    Recyclers like Hank’s and Paleshi Motors tend to deal in newer vehicles. If your four-year-old Corolla gets crunched in a collision, there are lots of other four-year-old Corollas still on the road that can use the parts. If you drive your jalopy until it’s a rolling rust wagon, it’s more likely to go straight to a crusher, because there’s little demand for parts that old.

    Scrap dealers can offer higher prices for old cars than recyclers can; they don’t have the expenses involved in dismantling and draining cars before sending them to the crusher. Cars that are crushed without being de-polluted can leach those fluids back into the environment.

    “Right now, our estimates are that less than half of vehicles are de-polluted before going to a crushing state,” said Steve Fletcher, president of the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association.

    That’s where the Retire Your Ride program comes in. Owners of 1995 and older vehicles that are still running can turn them in for $300 cash or a rebate on a newer vehicle. The idea is to get older, high-polluting cars off the road.

    It’s no coincidence that Retire Your Ride originated with recyclers. It stems partly from honest concern for the environment, but it’s also good for business. To receive cars through Retire Your Ride, wreckers have to follow a national code of practice to ensure that hazardous materials are dealt with properly. That means salvage is directed away from scrap dealers and toward recyclers, who are set up for dismantling and de-polluting cars.

    “It makes it economically viable for us to handle them. We would never buy some of these vehicles coming through [without Retire Your Ride],” explained Derek Nissen.